Six Utahns associated with climate activist and convicted energy lease auction imposter Tim DeChristopher were among 30 arrested in and around the U.S. Capitol in recent days for disrupting government activities, including House floor debate.
DeChristopher wasn't among those arrested, though he and 12 other members of Salt Lake City's climate-action group Peaceful Uprising are in Washington for a "Power Shift" clean-energy conference. DeChristopher spoke to activists at the conference and said that "the climate-change movement has done too much compromising," said the group's co-director, Flora Bernard.
That message echoes an impassioned defense of civil disobedience that he gave on the U.S. District Court steps in Salt Lake City after his felony conviction for placing bogus bids at a U.S. Bureau of Land Management lease auction.
"If we're going to achieve our vision," he said when his trial ended March 3, "many after me will have to join me as well."
At the time, members of Peaceful Uprising and his First Unitarian Church congregation said they were willing to face arrest to challenge the fossil-fuel economy that they believe is quickly destroying the planet.
On Friday, Utahns Deb Henry and Steven Liptay were among nine arrested for taking turns singing in protest from the U.S. House gallery, disrupting a budget debate for about 20 minutes. On Monday, Cori Redstone, Joan Gregory, Jacob Hanson and Krista Bowers were among 21 arrested during a sit-in at the U.S. Department of the Interior lobby. More than 100 protesters peeling off a permitted street march had entered the building, home of the BLM's parent department.
Asked about the disruption, or the message behind it, Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said only that the department "appreciates hearing from stakeholders from all sides of various issues."
Bernard said the lawful march, organized by the Energy Action Coalition, involved more than 1,000 people protesting outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a British Petroleum office and other energy-production interests.
The sit-in, she said, "was taking it more to the government and [protesting] how the government was allowing this atrocity."
Utah State University political scientist Michael Lyons said the actions are likely counterproductive to the activists' cause of getting Americans to support policies to battle climate change.
"Surveys continually indicate that one of the things that people hate most about Washington, D.C., is the degree of contention and rancor, the inability to work together and solve problems in a bipartisan way," Lyons said.
"Just stick to the science. Science is not as credible as it once was with Americans," Lyons said, "but it's still more credible than ideological contention."
Henry, 29, said the government isn't listening.
"We get a lot of criticism that we need to work within the system," she said. "The system's not working."
On the day of the arrests in the gallery, the House approved a budget compromise that would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.
One day earlier, the Republican-controlled House had passed a bill to strip the EPA of its powers to regulate greenhouse gases a proposal that has stalled in the Democratically controlled Senate.
On Friday, Capitol police removed Henry and the other protesters to their office near the Capitol and kept them for several hours.
They had taken turns singing climate-related lyrics to the tune of the national anthem, she said, each one renewing the song only after the previous singer had been removed and the House had started to resume business.
Officers asked who was the ringleader, Henry said. The protesters declined to answer those questions, she said, but there was no formal organization just a kernel of protest that one person brought to the conference and a number of willing participants.
"I'm concerned about what would happen if we don't act," Henry said.
She must return for a May 5 arraignment.
Joan Gregory, 58, a conservation organizer at the Salt Lake City church, said she felt compelled to act on behalf of younger generations. Her sit-in group sang "We Shall Overcome" before the arrests, she said, and later sang many songs during several hours in jail. She faces a misdemeanor unlawful-entry charge and must return to appear in a Washington court May 10.
"We're not afraid of these charges," she said. "We are working for a livable future. We want to ensure that whatever can be done at this point, in terms of turning the climate change around, needs to be done."
DeChristopher faces sentencing June 23. Pat Shea, an attorney on his defense team, declined to say whether his continuing defiance might affect his sentence.
"Putting him in federal prison is not going to help anything," Shea said. "But having him do community service would probably teach him a lesson and be a lesson for others."
Utah supporters of Tim DeChristopher were among those arrested in separate protests Friday and Monday in the nation's capital. The convicted oil-lease auction imposter was present, but he wasn't arrested.